The Shadow Queen – Review and Giveaway

18209338Title: The Shadow Queen
Author: Sandra Gulland
Source: from publisher for France Book Tours
Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Summary: Although I wish the protagonist was more the focus of the story, I loved the lush historical setting and the plot which gave us a glimpse at a very cool facet of life in the 1600s.

Even as the young daughter of poor, travelling players, Claudette longs for a better life. When her mother begins working for a theater in Paris, it opens an opportunity for Claudette to interact with the rich and famous. She is beguiled by the life of the mysterious young lady Athenais, with whom she forms an uneasy friendship. When Athenais becomes the mistress of Louis XIV and needs someone she can trust, it is Claudette she asks to serve as her personal attendant. Claudette is easily seduced by the richness of life as Athenais’ attendant but quickly learns that life at court is as much about acting as the theater.

I love historical fiction where the plot is tightly integrated with the setting. Sandra Gulland achieves that well here. The story could take place in very few other time periods and by following the plot, I learned a lot about this particular time period. The details of daily life as both a player and as a lady’s maid are fascinating and sometimes scandalous. The scenes the author chose to share painted a vivid picture of the poverty and opulence which existed side-by-side in the middle ages. The use of archaic terms, helpfully explained by a glossary, added to the ambiance. The writing did strike me as a little stiff at first, but as I got to know Claudette better, I began to feel the narrative style suited her. I was also swiftly distracted from thoughts about narrative style, as the action naturally built momentum and kept me constantly wanting to know what would happen next.

I felt we got to know Claudette pretty well, but Athenais was often the star of the show. Athenais reminded me a bit of Anna Karenina (which I loved!), because both are beautiful and alluring, but also reckless, even self-destructive, when passionately pursuing what they want. Much of Claudette’s life ended up being all about Athenais. I think some readers might actually like this, since Athenais is a fascinating character and the inequality of their relationship is appropriate to the times. However, I would have liked to see more of Claudette. Several incredibly emotional events happen in Claudette’s life during the course of the story. I thought some of these were glossed over too much, particularly those that occur when Athenais is around. I just didn’t get a good feel for Claudette’s emotions. Claudette also lacked agency, making only a few decisions for herself, and the end has the feeling of Deus ex machina Claudette and I both hate. Things just wrapped up too neatly with little help from Claudette.

Despite this small complaint, I really enjoyed the book as a whole. In fact, I think my wanting more of Claudette is indicative of how engaging the book could be at times. I’d definitely suggest giving this a chance if you like well-researched historical fiction which will immerse you in a different time.

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 Shadow Queen BannerFor some other perspectives, check out the other stops on the tourAmazon, or Goodreads.



Filed under Historical Fiction

14 Responses to The Shadow Queen – Review and Giveaway

  1. Pingback: France Book Tours stops for April 27-May 2 | France Book Tours

  2. Pingback: Sandra Gulland on Tour: The Shadow Queen | France Book Tours

  3. emma

    thanks for your very thorough review, highlighting what you liked and what could have been better for you in this novel
    emma recently posted…France Book Tours 1st Anniversary Giveaway WinnersMy Profile

  4. Amanda @ Off The Book

    Going for this book. I had requested it on NetGalley, but then it had already been archived :( It was weird. I’m so glad you enjoyed it though!
    Amanda @ Off The Book recently posted…Face In A Book Update: “Katherine” by Anya Seton & “Far From You” by Tess SharpeMy Profile

  5. Lianne @

    Great review! Well-researched novels are always an added joy and it’s good to know that it’s populated by some interesting characters (however Athenais steals the spotlight from Claudette! ;)). I will definitely keep an eye out for this title :)

    • Thanks Lianne! I love when an author lets you know what parts of a story are true and I was pleasantly surprised by how much of this one was based in fact. It sounded as though the biggest changes were to the timeline, with most of the events actually happening. Very cool!

  6. Melissa W.

    Heard good things about this book and I am looking forward to reading it in the near future.
    Melissa W. recently posted…2014 Book Blogger Summer Reading Program!My Profile

    • Great! I thought it was really well done historical fiction, especially the way the story fit the setting and the way the author shared some details about her research at the end.

  7. Laura Frey

    Darn, missed the contest! I love Sandra Gulland. I devoured her Josephine B series.
    Laura Frey recently posted…Come Barbarians by Todd Babiak: The Book, The Man, The HummusMy Profile

    • I think there are some other giveaways going on as part of the tour at and I’ve seen the author tweeting about some giveaways as well, maybe the same ones, so you might be able to enter one of those :) This was my first experience with Sandra Gulland, but I’d definitely be interested in trying her other books.

  8. Melinda @ The Book Musings

    Ah , I would’ve totally entered if it wasn’t just US/Canada, but I only see your review now. Sounds like my kind of read.


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